“Nice rose tattoo,” I said.

Not THAT rose tattoo, as I’m not a huge fan of Tennessee Williams.*

No, this was an enormous polychrome rose covering the whole of her inside forearm, half-hidden by the breakfast menu she proffered with a smile.

Today is another first: My first post-op farmer’s market stroll. I’m celebrating with breakfast out.

I’d love to make my inaugural stroll at my beloved Portland or Beaverton Farmers Markets (which go on for blocks and are truly stunning; when they say Portland’s locavore markets are the best in the U.S., they’re not kidding), but Elmo-the-knee-replacement and I aren’t quite up to that yet. So my neighborhood market of a dozen or so stalls will do nicely.

Anyway, I’m curled up in a booth with my laptop, chatting with the waitfolk. The assistant manager’s lost about 50 pounds; she’s trim and proud and baggy-pantsed. The motherly manager has been watching my limpalong progress with interest–there’s a hip replacement in her future–so she gave me a thumbs up when she didn’t see the cane this morning.

But the tattooed waitress handing me the menu is new. There’s writing tatted on her left arm, the rose on her right, and a hint of paisley curling up from her spine in back.

She thanks me for the compliment, and I tell her I collect tattoos, which raises an eyebrow.

“Uhm, I mean, I write stories,” I explain, “And sometimes I like to collect the stories behind why people choose the tattoos they have.” I tap my screen a few times, and show her the the post I did about the girl who tells her life on her skin.

“Oh, I see; that’s cool!” she exclaims, scrolling through the pictures, “I do all my own art, too; these are all my designs that I draw out, then I have the artist put it into my skin.”

She lets me photograph her arm, worrying that the light won’t show it to best advantage. She can spend a few months on each design, drawing and redrawing, then working with the tattoo artist to get the colors just right. “I’m growing a rose garden in my tattoos, for my grandma who passed away.”

Her grandmother loved roses, and spent many hours in her garden with her granddaughter, passing on her love of tending rosebushes. When she died, “I started drawing roses and vines. Then I began putting tattoos of my grandma’s favorite roses where nobody but me could see them. It kept her with me.”

The big rose on her forearm, though, is a little different. “My grandma taught me to be proud of who I am. That’s very hard to remember sometimes, when people make fun of you. You know what I mean?”

Oh yes, I certainly know that one. Don’t we all?

“Well, when I was younger, my grandma told me this saying, and it helped me stay proud. So I had half of it tattooed on my left arm, and half of it tattooed on my right:”

I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I’m not

She held up her left arm and, sure enough, there’s I’d rather be hated for who I am. The rose on her right arm covers the rest of the saying.

“So you don’t need it anymore?”

“No, it’s not that. I think it’s a good thing to always have around. But I’m a server, you know? People see writing on your arms, they ask about it,” she grimaces, “Maybe 50 times a day they ask about it. It just gets tiring to answer the same questions over and over.”

Eventually, another rose will cover I’d rather be hated for who I am, “when I’ve saved up enough money for another tattoo.”

“I already moved the saying to my back, and I’m adding more roses besides. Anyway, thanks to my grandma, I’ll never forget to be proud of who I really am, so I don’t need to see the words anymore. Her roses are enough.”

“Say, can I get you anything else?”

“Nope,” I say, “Thanks.”

She leaves the check on the table. I spend a few minutes, tapping out this post. The tip should be about $3 but I write “thank you for the story” on my napkin, stick a twenty underneath, then pay at the register and walk out.

I’m halfway to the farmers market when she catches up.

“Hey! You can’t know about my crappy yesterday,” she says, “So just…thank you.”

She hugs me, and it lasts awhile. Then she goes back into the diner, and I wind up in a long conversation with a two-toothed gourdmaker who’s afraid her daddy has Alzheimer’s Disease.

But that’s another story.

*For the record, I think of Williams, O’Neill, and Miller as belonging that lofty mid-century “old boys will be old boys” club. As in, “we’re gonna lie, steal, cheat, rape, shoot up, drink, and beat the holy whaling tar out of you, but if you love us enough, maybe there’ll be hope for tomorrow…you stupid chump.”

See, I was the one watching Stella run to Stanley and saying, “Wait…what? She’s not kicking that jerk in the goolies and helping her sister? Whoa! It’s not BLANCHE who needs the shrink…”